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Scientists Produce Atlas Of Worm Infection Prevalence, Distribution Throughout Africa

On Tuesday at the 12th International Congress of Parasitology, a group of scientists, led by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, launched an online series of maps showing the distribution and prevalence of worm infections across Africa, Tropika.net reports (Chinnock, 8/17).

Produced in collaboration with the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London, the maps featured in “This Wormy World … are the first of a series of Global Atlas of Helminth Infections which provide a unique, open-access, free information resource vital for planning and implementing deworming programmes,” according to a London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine press release. After more than a decade worth of collecting survey data on worm prevalence and distribution, “This Wormy World identifies areas in a country that most urgently require mass treatment to control infection and predicts the risk of infection in areas where data is lacking,” the release adds (8/16).

Of the “over 400 million children worldwide [who] are infected with worms (helminths), 90 million” live in Africa, according to a Wellcome Trust press release.  Worm infections tend to be most common in areas with poor sanitation, the release adds, noting, “The most common worm infections are soil-transmitted helminths, such as roundworm, whipworm and hookworm, and schistosomiasis” (8/17).

“Helminths harm health, but also interfere with nutrition and even academic advancement,” Scientific American’s 60-Second Science reports. Though “[i]t’s often easy to control the parasites with cheap treatments … resources get wasted because deworming programs are targeted at the wrong communities,” the podcast adds (Graber, 8/18).

“Until now, the information that policy makers and public health professionals need to plan their strategies [for fighting worm infections] has not been easily accessible,” the Wellcome Trust release continues. “‘This Wormy World’ brings together all the available information in one standardised, geo-referenced database” (8/17).

Tropika.net includes comments from researchers who helped develop the atlas as well as the head of the Neglected Tropical Disease Control Program in the Ugandan Ministry of Health, who commended the resource.

“Good health is essential for learning. Programmes that improve children’s health can be among the most cost-effective ways to improve education outcomes in poor communities,” said the World Bank’s Donald Bundy, who is a co-founder of This Wormy World. “This first atlas of worm infections in African countries is a major step forward in tackling neglected tropical diseases throughout the world,” Tropika.net reports (8/17).

Though the first series of maps focus on “infections in Africa, where the burden of worms and the need for reliable maps is greatest,” the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine press release notes plans are in the works for the group “to produce similar maps for all other countries in the world by the end of 2010. The longer-term goal is to produce a global atlas of all neglected tropical diseases, including lymphatic filariasis and river blindness (onchocerciasis) and work is already underway to develop a Global Atlas of Trachoma, in collaboration with the International Trachoma Initiative.” The release adds, “The goal supports the recent commitment of the Obama administration to provide more than US$100 million (.pdf) annually for neglected tropical disease” (8/16).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.